What is it that makes company culture sticky – something that binds together coworkers, united around a mission – and why is it so important? In today’s turbocharged competitive landscape, having a consistent culture that is communicated seamlessly both internally and externally is central to providing consumers with a unified and cohesive brand experience.
As we get ready for the Financial Brand Forum 2016 in Las Vegas, we’ve been talking a lot about company culture, and why it’s so central to an organization’s success. At this year’s Forum, there is a lot of buzz around the tour of Zappo’s headquarters, as well as the keynote from Erica Javellana, Speaker of the House at Zappos, addressing her company’s unique culture of service and how what happens inside Zappos creates a meaningful experience for their customers. But company culture is more than just this decade’s marketing buzzword; it’s a meaningful value proposition that is delivered on every day inside every organization – or not.
According to a recent article by KOMarketing, “Despite the fact that organizations are invested in the reputation of their businesses, research shows that there is a major disconnect between the internal organizational brand culture and their customer-facing brand values.” The article further outlines that the Brand Experience Survey 2016 by Brandworkz and CIM, finds that only 53% of respondents saw synergy between their internal and external brands. This is important because employees are the front line advocates for an organization; they’re often customer-facing and are responsible for delivering on brand expectation. If the culture of an organization is dysfunctional on the inside, rest assured, customers will eventually see it on the outside.
Since what we focus on at Adrenaline is brand experience, we have a vested interest in everything that helps companies really deliver on their promise and potential. As we learn more from experts who have built their company culture from the ground up at this year’s Brand Forum, I wanted to outline what I think defines company culture and how companies keep their eye on the ball when it comes to fostering a meaningful, purpose-driven organization from the inside out. Then, examine these against some of the best practices from culture experts, like Zappos.
Hierarchy and Power
Organizations must have some sort of organizational structure in order to have a functional environment that drives organizations forward, but how much power, flexibility and ability are employees given on a daily basis? Are they empowered to really deliver on the brand’s promise? For example at Starbucks, all employees are given the mandate to get a customer’s order right, no matter what. That means if a barista must remake a drink to ensure a customer’s satisfaction, the company understands that doing so will cost the company money, but customer experience is the most important currency, not the bottom line. In short, employees must have power.
Communication and Mission
Per William Craig in the Forbe’s article ‘What Is Company Culture, and How Do You Change It?‘, one central tenet of any healthy culture is “clarity of purpose.” He says, “This one is deceptively simple. It’s not enough for you to merely prescribe a purpose for your employees; they also have to buy into it. They have to feel that what they do matters and has a measurable impact on the success of the company.” This speaks to the mission of the organization, communicated effectively and consistenly to employees, but not just from the top-down. Ensuring that a company’s mission is fully embraced by employees means that leaders must walk the walk themselves and support an environment where employees bring themselves to the role of brand advocate. This is not overtly prescriptive, but rather fostered in an open communications environment. For example, Zappos encourages employees to express themselves which results in offices that look more like a game room than a corporate headquarters.
Freedom of Expression
At Adrenaline, we have creatives, project managers, strategists, business developers, account managers, and communicators all working together toward a common goal – a merry band of right and left-brainers, type As and type Bs, and everything in between, interacting regularly. Everyone has a specific role within the company, but must routinely interface with others – who may think and act quite differently from each other – in order to get their jobs done. Our challenge is to create an environment where people are free to be themselves, but understand where others are coming from. We’re not overly prescriptive about interactions, but we want to foster a working environment that is fun, productive and respectful. If we’ve done our job at empowering our team members and providing them with clarity of purpose, we feel like we’ve set the stage for everyone to do their best work in the best environment. This doesn’t mean we don’t have our own share of drama; it just means that we’ve got some of the tools for dealing with it when it does happen. I look forward to getting more tools for my culture toolbox next week.
We’d like to hear your thoughts about company culture and what makes it great. I’ll be tweeting from Brand Forum with some of my learnings. Use #brandculture and #fbforum2016 to join the conversations.